Microsoft Wants Greener Cloud Data Centers

Microsoft pledges to add more direct sources of clean, renewable power to its energy mix and work with the communities in which it operates to improve access.

green IT

By all accounts, Microsoft already runs a pretty tight ship when it comes to making its business practices environmentally friendly. Since 2014, the Redmond, Wash., tech titan has been completely powered by renewable sources, using a combination of direct clean power purchases and renewable energy certificates that offset carbon emissions.

This week, Microsoft said that it plans to increase the amount of renewable energy that flows directly into its cloud data centers.

"As we move forward, we will continue to purchase renewable energy certificates to ensure we reduce our carbon emissions to zero," said Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer at Microsoft, in a May 19 announcement. "But more important, we are setting goals to grow the percent of wind, solar, and hydropower energy we purchase directly and through the grid to 50 percent by 2018, 60 percent early in the next decade, and to an ongoing and higher percentage in future years beyond that."

Currently, 44 percent of the electricity consumed by Microsoft's data centers comes from wind farms, solar panels and hydroelectric plants, Smith noted.

For the sake of transparency, Microsoft also plans to publicly publish its energy statistics on an annual basis. The report will include figures on its global and regional energy consumption, renewable energy certificate purchases and other metrics that will offer insight into the company's energy use and investments.

When the company goes looking for new places to build data centers and other facilities, Smith said Microsoft will prioritize areas and communities that have access to clean energy, or will have access by the time it's getting ready to flip the switch.

Further, the company will use its influence to help make those communities less reliant on fossil fuel plants. "Wherever we operate, we will work to bring new renewable energy sources online either through investments in new projects, by engaging on enabling policy changes that will help accelerate availability of more clean energy, and by working with utilities to increase the availability of renewable energy on the grid," Smith said.

Microsoft will also pour research dollars into improving the energy efficiency of data centers, servers and software, Smith added.

Of course, Microsoft isn't the only big-name technology company seeking to minimize its environmental impact.

Last year, Google announced that its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters will be powered by wind energy provided by NextEra Energy. In April, the search giant announced that it was providing seed funding to the Center for Resource Solutions to help spur demand for renewable energy certification programs in Asia where such programs are hard to come by.

Apple touts that it procures enough renewable energy for 93 percent of the device maker's data centers, offices and retail stores. Working with suppliers, the company hopes to install 4 gigawatts of clean energy worldwide, half of that in China where the iPhone is produced.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...